Hops A-Z: I is for India Pale Ale

Ask a beer drinker to name a hoppy style and I bet the majority will say 'IPA'.

For some, it's a beer redolent of British history as much as any citric sniff. Beer of the Empire, once our Nation's Greatest Export, a hopped expression of our colonial rise and fall. Characterised by strength, perseverance, robustness, character.

For others, it's the new frontier - a style to be mastered and then pushed beyond the established envelope, a chance to express brewing prowess through ever-more assertive (possibly aggressive) hopping.

For many in England, it's this.

India Pale Ale may not always have alcoholic strength and stacks of juicy hops but it does have a long, sometimes tortuous history. After much random Google searching, ahem, I mean studious research, I can say for certain is that pale ale was brewed in England in the eighteenth century (and indeed before), exported to India in the nineteenth century (and probably the latter part of the eighteenth too), popularised in England through the twentieth century and transmogrified by the Americans in the twenty-first century.

Another thing I'll say with a great degree of certainty is when the name 'India Pale Ale' was first used in print. Martyn Cornell suggests it to have been in 1837; Pete Brown, in his entertaining tale Hops And Glory mentions a Liverpool Mercury advert in 1835. I'll go with the latter - indeed I'm happy to say it was the 27th of February 1835, where Hodgson and Company advertised;

"East India Pale Ale…being brewed from the finest East Kent hop, it contains a particularly fine tonic quality, and is consequently much recommended by the faculty even to invalids."

See this Open University paper for more details.

If you want to discover the twists and turns of the IPA tale - and it's a tale that's enlightening, frustrating and surprising at every turn - then go buy Pete's book and do read Martyn's articles on IPA over at Zythophile; start here to get a flavour of his approach and enjoy from thereon in.